This is a FIRST for Lord Flea! Instead of editing my erroneous (facts, dear! they weren’t 100%) previous post, I’m going to give you this true and well-researched NEW version. The previous posting was so emotional (it took me an entire day to write, something that ordinarily takes an hour or two at most) that I’ve decided to leave it up, just so you can see how facts get distorted by even the most well-intentioned (me!). For those of you who want just facts, read below. For those of you who like to compare and contrast, go at ‘er and read the previous version.
Here’s today’s NEW post:
Leading up to an escalating confrontation, increasing numbers of demonstrators were gathering to protest our town’s quietly religious Islamic Center out on busy Route 207. A member of Peace and Unity (P&U), a local pro-active peace group here in St. Augustine, Fl, was commuting to work on Monday this past July 20, when she passed the Mosque.
She noticed a large group of angry, American flag-waving demonstrators who numbered around 30 to 40. For the previous days, the anti-Islam demonstrators (Ds) kept increasing. In a few days it would be Friday, the Islamic holy day of worship, when large numbers of families with children were expected to arrive at the Mosque.
The commuting-woman texted other P&U friends, who then sent out emails to the leaders of Compassionate St. Augustine (CSA), a group of concerned citizens who strive to live by the Golden Rule. Having specialized in being a volunteer go-between, a woman who, for years, has volunteered to help settle disputes, stepped in. The mediator (M) called a Muslim lady she knew. M asked her friend if she and her fellow Muslims who worship at the Mosque each Friday would like help. Most definitely, was the reply.
Outside the orthodox Islamic Center (IC) shouts of anti-Islam grew more aggressive each day. The Ds were incensed about the latest tragedy, an attack by a man named Muhammad who’d killed servicemen up in Chattanooga just the week before. The Ds and members of the IC had clashed on the sidewalk and had invective words that increased the Ds’ ire. The religious congregation feared for their lives to gather for their regular Mosque worship that coming Friday.
Meanwhile, the leader of the demonstrators (LofD) was putting things up on Facebook trying to rally people across the county and beyond, claiming suspicions of these Muslims being anti-American. Statements about “other attacks” appeared, including, incongruously, the recent attack on the prayer group in South Carolina, a tragedy not even related to Islam, an act of one very disturbed individual.
One disparagement seen on the page of LofD was: We plan on being here until they show who they really are—terrorists, and then we’ll be ready to take them out!
Somehow the email of M, who had privately offered to help the IC settle the rising dispute, was put up on the LofD’s Facebook page, scaring her, but not enough to keep her from continuing to try to help solve the growing crisis. M sent out a request for members of U&P, CSA, and other sympathetic organizations in our town, to meet on Friday, adding sweetly, “We’ll bring chocolate cake and lemonade for all our neighbors.”
Soon enough a rebuttal post appeared on LofD’s page how they’d show up with hamburgers and BLT sandwiches, enough for a hundred people, saying that bacon would taste especially good there at the Mosque.
But our local paper, the St. Augustine Record, got wind of the coming face-off. On Thursday, boldly placed on the front page, above all other headlines, was an article that horrified everyone’s sense of common decency. Included was a close-up photo of individual Ds holding a sign that read: “Islam is of the Devil, 666.” I swore to stop my busy work day to stand among the anti-demonstrators (a-Ds) to support our Muslim neighbors the next day.
All those burgers and sandwiches would go bad because only 6 Ds showed up.
Our group, the a-Ds, had 60-65 showed up in the humid heat of that early Friday morning, July 24. Quietly, without signs, without shouts or malice of any kind, we showed our love of freedom, yes, protecting ours and our neighbors’ constitutional rights of religious freedom. But we were there mostly to protect our Muslim neighbors from any more harassment. We stood tall and strong beside the Mosque’s entrance, and later joined them inside for prayer when the Ds’ tempers were cooled.
Perhaps Ds failed to show because they finally remembered our country’s tradition of welcoming all worshipers, no matter what different Name for the Almighty people use, or religion, or denomination, as our founding fathers the Pilgrims, were once persecuted for, as well.
The 6 Ds paced the outside sidewalk, waving their over-sized American flags. I don’t think they shared any cake or lemonade with us. Ironically, the same constitutional rights the protesters were claiming (free speech) was done in protestation against other people’s right (to worship); two rights all on US soil have, the same for everyone.
Soon though, after our legions of support arrived at the Mosque, the temporary Iman, officially known as “the representative of the IC,” a man I’ve known for over 30 years as the owner of a pizza shop, walked out to peacefully greet the leader of the demonstrators. The white-robed Iman was accompanied by the white-haired mediator, a non-Muslim. The Iman identified himself and invited all the protesters to come inside the Mosque and join the Islamic worshipers and their supporters, in prayer, or just to see for themselves what “was going on inside here.”
But the Ds would not join us inside. Later, we’d find out why. The LofD told the Iman and M that: We never go anywhere we can’t take our concealed weapons. The sheriff had told M that the Ds “were carrying and had permits for concealed weapons.” When M mentioned to Ds that the Mosque was a weapons-free zone, LofD said they couldn’t go anywhere they couldn’t take their weapons!
Then LofD said their real beef was because the IC wasn’t flying the American flag on its outside. The Iman immediately responded, “We’ll be happy to fly the Stars and Stripes, no problem! Why didn’t anyone just ask this of us before?”
A sad note to this otherwise breath-relieving solution was the manner in which LofD insisted the IC fly the specific flag presented to them when they met the next day. M, also in attendance, noticed on Saturday that the flag presented to the Iman had its grommets place in such a way that it would fly upside down. This, according to the U.S. Flag Code, means … “a signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”
M noticed the flag was not rigged for proper alignment, and, together with the Iman, asked the LofD why? LofD said it was a special sign of respect to fly it upside down, signifying that soldiers had been killed. M objected saying passers-by would not understand this, what seemed alarmingly disrespectful to most people. M traded the upside down one for a properly flying one.
The Iman took a picture of their standard regulation flag flying outside the IC and sent it to the LofD, who called off further demonstrations.
The best part of this story is that now our Muslim neighbors feel more a part of our local community. Whereas before they felt isolated, mostly out of feeling misunderstood, or suffering scorn and harassment, religiously and politically, since 9/11.
The Iman did not mention to the demonstrators (but I must here) that there is no US flag flying outside any Catholic or Protestant Church in St. Augustine, nor the Jewish synagogue, neither any Buddhist nor Hindu temple nor Unitarian Universalist or Center for Spiritual Living that I know of. In America, church and state are supposed to be separate, right? But the Iman, an amiable person who has flown the American flag over the Coke dispenser at his pizza joint since I met him decades ago, agreed to this preposterous demand—in the name of wanting to make peace. And peace was made, even though the humble Iman did what I’m sure most religious leaders in America would balk at.
Help spread peace by signing the International Charter for Compassion at http://www.CharterForCompassion.